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The Obama Paradox

Peter Daou’s pieces for the Huffington Post are typically among the best, and today’s was no exception, about the “Obama Paradox”: Why does it seem that Obama is heading for a failed presidency when he has actually passed more major legislation than any Democratic president in generations?

In essence, the “Obama paradox” isn’t a paradox at all. There’s nothing inherently illogical about someone accomplishing big things but undercutting those accomplishments with errors, misjudgments and mistakes – or being undercut by external circumstances. In the past year, politics and pop culture have given us a surfeit of examples of ‘successful failures’ – individuals who commit a transgression and undermine a lifetime of achievements. Are these individuals successes or failures or both? With President Obama, the issue is policy not personal life, but the situation is roughly analogous: serious errors, poor timing, or plain bad luck (or all three) can undercut the most impressive string of victories.

I’d take an even more simplified view. It appears to be a paradox because we only have the appearance of major legislative victories. Obama wants to look like a transformative president, but because he’s not transforming things quickly enough and the economy is still in the ditch it was when he presidency began, he looks like a failure.

He could escape this perception by doing what people like Daou and myself have been wishing he would do all along, which is stand up and strongly advocate for progressive principles–not just insisting that progressive policies are the right way to go but explaining why they are. If he would just fight for something, he would be given credit for trying even if he failed. But he doesn’t really look like he’s trying. He governs by taking the path of least resistance every time, and compromising away all of the principles he pretended to stand for during the campaign.

His political victories make him look like a “succesful failure”. Ironically, if he were to fight the good fight and fail anyway, he might have more political success.

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